Seniors missing vaccinations, preventive care; geography affecting healthy life expectancy

Seniors and those involved in their healthcare need to pay more attention to flu and pneumonia vaccinations, mobility assessments and certain preventive screenings to ensure longevity and quality of life, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

The number of Americans aged 65 or more years is expected to double to about 72 million in the next 25 years, the agency said. The country has an economic incentive to focus on the health of this age group, according to the CDC, because two-thirds of older Americans have multiple chronic conditions, and caring for these conditions accounts for 95 percent of health costs associated with older Americans.

The “State of Aging and Health in America 2013” report reviewed 15 health indicators related to health status, health behaviors, preventive care and screening and fall injuries in the 65+ age group. Major points:

  • No states have met Healthy People 2020 goals related to flu and pneumonia vaccination.
  • Aging and public health professionals can make adjustments to physical environments and use integrated interventions to address gaps in the assessment and measurement of mobility. Many adverse health outcomes are associated with impaired mobility.
  • Public health professionals are beginning to address binge drinking, emergency preparedness and health literacy issues in older adults. Such issues already are being addressed by healthcare and aging services professionals.
  • States have met Healthy People 2020 targets for older adults related to leisure time physical activity, obesity, smoking and hypertension medication.
  • Cardiovascular disease and cancer especially, but also stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, continue to pose great risks to people as they age.

Other data, issued by the CDC in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, indicate that race and geography influence how long people are expected to live in good health.

“Where you live in the United States shouldn’t determine how long and how healthy you live—but it does, far more than it should,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press release. “Not only do people in certain states and African-Americans live shorter lives, they also live a greater proportion of their last years in poor health.”

State-Specific Healthy Life Expectancy at Age 65 Years — United States, 2007–2009” reviewed data from the National Vital Statistics System, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and found that those who live in the South and blacks across the country have lower healthy life expectancy (HLE) than others. HLE was greatest for whites in all states and Washington, D.C., where data were sufficient, except Nevada and New Mexico. Men and women aged 65+ years had the best HLE in Hawaii and the lowest in Mississippi.

HLE estimates can predict future health service needs, evaluate health programs and identify trends and inequalities, according to the CDC. Future prevention programs must receive support regardless of geography, Frieden added.

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